Diversity and cross-cultural issues in Suriname

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In fulfilling its mandate to share the face of America with host countries, the Peace Corps is making special efforts to see that all of America’s richness is reflected in the Volunteer corps. More Americans of color are serving in today’s Peace Corps than at any time in recent years. Differences in race, ethnic background, age, religion, and sexual orientation are expected and welcomed among our Volunteers. Part of the Peace Corps’ mission is to help dispel any notion that Americans are all of one origin or race and to establish that each of us is as thoroughly American as the other despite our many differences.

Our diversity helps us accomplish that goal. In other ways, however, it poses challenges. In Suriname, as in other Peace Corps host countries, Volunteers’ behavior, lifestyle, background, and beliefs are judged in a cultural context very different from their own. Certain personal perspectives or characteristics commonly accepted in the United States may be quite uncommon, unacceptable, or even repressed in Suriname.

Outside of Suriname’s capital, residents of rural communities have had relatively little direct exposure to cultures and lifestyles of people from other countries. What people view as typical North American behavior or norms may be a misconception, such as the belief that all Americans are rich and have blond hair and blue eyes. The people of Suriname are justly known for their generous hospitality to foreigners; however, members of the community in which you will live may display a range of reactions to cultural differences that you present.

To ease the transition and adapt to life in Suriname, you may need to make some temporary, yet fundamental compromises in how you present yourself as an American and as an individual. For example, female trainees and Volunteers may not be able to exercise the independence available to them in the United States; political discussions need to be handled with great care; and some of your personal beliefs may best remain undisclosed. You will need to develop techniques and personal strategies for coping with these and other limitations. The Peace Corps staff will lead diversity and sensitivity discussions during pre-service training and will be on call to provide support, but the challenge ultimately will be your own.

Overview of Diversity in Suriname

The Peace Corps staff in Suriname recognizes the adjustment issues that come with diversity and will endeavor to provide support and guidance. During pre-service training, several sessions will be held to discuss diversity and coping mechanisms. We look forward to having male and female Volunteers from a variety of races, ethnic groups, ages, religions, and sexual orientations, and hope that you will become part of a diverse group of Americans who take pride in supporting one another and demonstrating the richness of American culture.

hat Might a Volunteer Face?

Possible Issues for Female Volunteers

Women in Suriname generally have traditional roles. Especially in rural areas, they do most of the work in the fields, run the household, prepare meals, clean, and rear the children. Men are dominant, which means they are expected to smoke, drink, pursue women, be strong, and discipline their wives and children. In Maroon cultures, it is acceptable for men to have more than one wife. Women in these cultures are also generally expected to adhear to local expectations of menstrating women. Gender roles, particularly those for women, will be quite apparent in the day-to-day life of your village. Your community will expect you to operate within these roles.

In Paramaribo, it is not uncommon for women to receive stares, comments, and offers of dates or sex on the street and in other situations. Caucasian women are obvious targets because they are so visible and have a reputation for being liberal in male-female relationships. The Peace Corps recognizes the challenges these situations present for female Volunteers in Suriname and will suggest ways to handle the situations during pre-service training.

Possible Issues for Volunteers of Color

As the country’s population consists of several different ethnic groups, the Surinamese have a high tolerance and acceptance of other cultures. This does not mean that people will not be curious about your background and any visual differences.

Most Volunteers in the Peace Corps/Suriname program have been Caucasian. Because of the variety of ethnic groups represented in Suriname, African Americans, Asian Americans, or Hispanic Americans may be seen as Surinamese. In some cases, this can be a benefit, but it can also be a source of cultural misunderstandings. Volunteers of color, for example, may be expected to interact socially with more ease, even though they face the same challenges in learning new cultural norms and languages.

Possible Issues for Senior Volunteers

Peace Corps/Suriname has been fortunate to have both younger and older Peace Corps Volunteers serving in the country since 1995. Age has not been hindrance to being successful. Older Peace Corps Volunteers are normally treated with more respect, a common practice in Suriname’s culture.

Possible Issues for Gay, Lesbian, or Bisexual Volunteers

As tolerant as the Surinamese are, generally speaking, the tolerance does not extend to people with a different sexual orientation. In the capital, you may encounter individuals who are gay or lesbian, but in the rural areas where most Volunteers live, homosexuality and bisexuality are taboo, and people do not talk about them. Openly homosexual Volunteers may encounter difficulties.

There is a small and infrequently active LGBT community in Paramaribo. Outside of events organized by the community volunteers should use discresion when discusing a non-traditional sexual orientation.

Possible Religious Issues for Volunteers

As with the multi-ethinic diversity of Suriname, there are also a variety of religious beliefs and practices. Whether or not you choose to go to a church makes little difference to Surinamese. However, you will be asked about your religious beliefs as this is an important part of life in Suriname. Attending church with friends and community members is an excellent way to learn more about the culture.

Possible Issues for Volunteers With Disabilities

As a disabled Volunteer in Suriname, you may find that you face a special set of challenges. There are few services available for people with disabilities in the capital. In the field, local support is likely to be inadequate to accommodate a physically challenged Volunteer.

That said, as part of the medical clearance process, the Peace Corps Office of Medical Services determined that you were physically and emotionally capable, with or without reasonable accommodations, to perform a full tour of Volunteer service in Suriname without unreasonable risk of harm to yourself or interruption of your service. Peace Corps/Suriname staff will work with disabled Volunteers to make reasonable accommodations in training, housing, job sites, and other areas to enable them to serve safely and effectively.